Reply to the post: Significant lighting choices in Chinatown

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Write an one page response to the following post “Chinatown utilizes most, if not all, of the various lighting techniques that the film noir category is known for. One of the first significant shots of the film happens early on when Jake Gittes is standing in Hollis’ office snooping around and he is greeted by Yelburton. The shot features very little backlight and key light but offers a lot of fill light which casts upon Yelburton. This creates a sense of exposure that Yelburton is face with while Gittes is shown in the shadow as he faces Yelburton; Gittes being in the shadow creates a sense of mystery especially since Yelburton doesn’t know him and he was just shown snooping around the office. This gives viewers the sense that Gittes might prove to be a problem for these people running the water company. 

Another significant scene in the film uses intense backlighting happens when Gittes followed Evelyn Mulwray to the house. The scene shows Gittes walking up to the window in the shadows of the house as he looks inside and watches Mulwray enter the bedroom and approach the woman her husband was accused of cheating on her with. This use of intense backlighting shows the insight Gittes is gaining by snooping yet this scenes use of shadows to completely disguise Gittes shows still how extremely in the dark he is in this murder mystery. The shot also illustrates how Gittes is the outsider looking in, he is the investigator and is completely in the dark about the true backstory of this family.

One scene that features an extreme amount of shadows is when Gittes arrives at one of the Oak Pass Reservoir. The scene shows Gittes standing in front of the fence reading the many “NO TRESPASSING” signs. The scene uses back light and fill light from the streetlamps that were in the actual location and as he walks away from the no trespassing signs the lighting quickly goes almost black only using the actual twilight behind him. This is significant to signaling that Gittes is walking into the unknown and potentially dangerous. After Gittes hops over the fence he begins to walk further into the darkness unsure of what he will find. The extremely useful aspect of film noir is the low key lighting that it creates. In this scene, two gun shots are fired but because of the low key lighting we have no idea where or who they are coming from; this helps further prolong the mystery of the movie.

Throughout the film many of the male characters are shown wearing hats. This is reflective of the time period in which the film is meant to take place but also functions as a specific costume choice that helps to create shadows upon their faces and since we do not know until the very end of the film who the murder is, this costume choice and shadows help to add to the mystery of the film. The shadows of the hats illustrate that each character is hiding something.

These varying uses of lighting help to signal the amount of danger and mystery there is surrounding the story line and the characters involved in it. The different lighting also signals the amount of knowledge Gittes has throughout the film. ”
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